What a wonderful trial going on here in VA. The organizers have done a fabulous job. Great field, great sheep. The sheep have been a good test of the dogs without being too much for the youngsters.
It was a bittersweet sort of day for me with Bill. I was so excited to run him and felt he was very ready and poised to do well. Unfortunately the luck of the draw got us. The sheep have been mostly very good but we had the misfortune to draw one that was a real stinker. She juked and jived and tried every trick in the book to get away from the moment she stepped on the field. We were doing a right hand drive and the sheep had been breaking all day to the left, and honestly i started wondering how the heck we were going to deal with that ewe on the crossdrive before we'd even brought her off the top end.
I sent Bill to the left on his outrun and he ran out very nicely, wide and deep. I'd planned on stopping him around 11 o'clock to counter the draw to the left but he came in there on his own, walking in with calm confidence. The sheep still broke to the left a bit but Bill took my flanks well and caught them. They got a bit offline but not too bad considering how hard it had been all day to hold them. We got the panels pretty easily and kept them online the rest of the fetch. This whole time, that one stinker of a ewe was breaking really hard to the left side about every 10 yards or so. Bill did a terrific job catching her and putting her back in, over and over and over, while we both worked hard to keep the other 3 online and sticking close enough to not lose them while the bad one was breaking. And i mean she was breaking hard! The turn around the post was dicey but we got it done. The first leg of the drive had been tough all day, with the sheep not wanting to line out and go straight downhill. Bill did a pretty nice job with the line, even though that ewe was breaking harder than ever, and her friends were starting to think about ways to take advantage of Bill being so busy with the stinker. We got them nicely through the panel and then the race was on! We had to take the sheep in the direction they wanted to go, and go they did, hellbent. I managed to time it exactly how i wanted, will Bill on the top side of the sheep as they flew through the panels. I had to give him a hard down command and went to voice, which meant i was giving that all important flank command by voice just as the crowd cheered like crazy for the made panels, and Bill didn't hear me. That little error killed us (i think he would have heard a whistled command), as the sheep got that extra jump ahead of Bill and ran to the fence where they so wanted to go. It was down over a hill and i couldn't see, other than that stinker ewe breaking off and heading uphill. Bill worked his butt off to bring the other 4 out but we needed all 5 - time ran out and we didn't get our drive score. In actuality, that 5th one had managed to get through the fence and into the big flock of sheep hanging out on the other side of the fence so there was no way we could have gotten it back together at that point. It was just heartbreaking because we'd worked so hard on such a bad ewe and Bill had done a stellar job. The whole crowd was disappointed, the cheers when we caught that panel and groans when the sheep got away were huge. It's hard to not get behind a little dog working so hard and doing such a good job.
So it was a tough day but also in some ways a really rewarding one. Bill really got to show his stuff out there, and it really made me feel great to have so many handlers come up and compliment his work and commiserate over that rotten ewe. It was disappointing because i think expectations that Bill would do well in the Nursery were pretty high. I know i felt he would do well and i sure would have liked to have made the second round to run for the Championship. But as always, there's a little luck involved in sheepdog trials and you do the best you can with what you get. I think we did that yesterday. Now, perhaps the sheepdog trial luck gods could cut us a break when we run tomorrow in the Open...